Zio Ristorante

Image Courtesy of Zio Ristorante

Some time ago, I went out to dinner at Zio Ristorante with my fiancé. Located in the meatpacking district, Zio is a charming and welcoming restaurant, with warm décor, high ceilings, a grand entrance and spacious rooms. The staff and the service they provide is impeccable and one of the best I’ve encountered in New York. The kitchen is open so if your seat position allows it, you can watch the chefs at work. Did I mention the reason we went here is because I found out Anthony Bourdain dined here with his wife. Sal and I are both incredible fans of his and even took a trip up to Montreal this summer inspired by an episode of Parts Unknown.  So in our family, if it’s good enough for Anthony, it’s good enough for us (except for blood sausage, I wouldn’t eat that).

Back to our experience at Zio, after we were seated our waiter brought a fresh bread basket and a small dish of red pesto, a mixture of sundried tomatoes, olive oil and seasonings. It was delicious and gone in less than 3 minutes. As a side note – there seem to be a lot of those in this post – I’ve noticed that most restaurants, especially the Italian establishments, have stopped bringing bread and olive oil to the table as a starter. I’m not sure why this is happening, but I’m definitely not a fan of it. It’s always ideal to munch on something warm and tasty while you peruse the menu.

As an appetizer Sal and I shared the Riso Al Salto con L’osso – a crunchy saffron risotto cake, bone marrow and gremolada sauce. Absolutely exquisite! Sal hates bone marrow which meant there was more for me. It was juicy, fatty, and succulent, everything you could ever want bone marrow to be. Extra perk, the waiter was kind enough the wrap the bone for us to take home to Khaleesi (our little pup) who loved it as much as her mama did!

Image courtesy of Zio Ristorante

For entrees we shared the Agnello (for me) and the Branzino Selvatico (for him). The Agnello consisted of almond crusted rack of lamb, Swiss chard ravioli in a goat cheese & sage fondue sauce. As a girl who thinks ravioli should be served with every dish, I found this pairing to be amazing! The ravioli- soft and flavorful, was served in a creamy sauce with an earthy, meaty aftertaste. The lamb chops were perfectly cooked, crunchy and salty on the outside, but soft and tender on the inside.  

The branzino was fresh and delicious. I had never tried the artichoke caponata before- a blend of kalamata olives and artichokes served with olive oil and garlic- but definitely enjoyed it. Sal loves artichokes like I love bone marrow, so he had a major R-rated experience with the caponata.

For dessert we ordered the Tiramisu and the chef’s special, the Amaretto Crème brûlée.They were both good but the crème brûlée was superb, divine, mouthwatering, and all other words you can use to describe something delectable. With every bite I took I got sadder and sadder because I knew I was closer to the end. If you go and have to choose just one dessert, ask if they’re serving this and have some. You’re welcome! Definitely make some time to stop by this gem. I think good Italian restaurants are hard to find, even in this city and this place is definitely one of the better choices. Now they’re even on Seamless Web, so  you can order the Agnello from your computer… in fact maybe that’s what I’ll have for lunch today.

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Sweet Treats in NYC

Following up on last week’s post, below are some amazing dessert places I’ve visited in the last few weeks, and some of their best treats which I devoured in 10 seconds enjoyed. Desserts are basically the way to my heart so as you can imagine I was one happy girl during each of these sugar excursions.

Martha’s Country Bakery

I’d heard the most amazing things about this bakery from fellow Astorians (possibly not a word) and decided to finally give it a try when the mood for cupcakes struck. Everyone had recommended the Red Velvet Cupcake but I really wanted to try the Red Velvet Cheesecake…so I ordered both. Then as I was paying I noticed the huge Kitchen Sink Cookies. They looked incredible so I got one of those as well.

Red Velvet cupcake – I was not a fan. The frosting was too thick and heavy, even for a cream cheese frosting. The cake itself was OK, but nothing spectacular. Maybe my expectations were too high? Grade for Cupcakes: C-

Red Velvet Cheesecake – The cheesecake itself was delicious, but again the cake was too dense and the frosting too thick. It was overwhelming and not in a good way. I actually threw out the cake and frosting, and just ate the cheesecake. Grade for overall cake: B-

Kitchen Sink Cookie – By the time I got to the cookie, I was really annoyed at how bad the rest of the things I got were. I took a bite, fully expecting to throw it away but then… Whoa that’s a good cookie. Moist, chewy, filled with nuts, chocolates, raisins and oatmeal.  Absolutely delicious and only $2. I’ll definitely go back to buy one of these babies and skip on the cupcakes. Grade for Cookies: A+

I think it’s noteworthy to mention, the decor at Martha’s Bakery is beautiful: cozy, warm and a bit romantic. Check out more dessert porn below!

Dough

This little Brooklyn gem serves up fluffy, delicate yeast donuts smothered in fresh, non-traditional glazes like dulcé de leche, hibiscus, blood orange, passion fruit, lemon poppy seed, etc. I think I should preface this experience and review by saying that I don’t actually like donuts, in fact I hate donuts. They’re like the dessert version of Seinfeld, as in, I don’t understand why people like it so much. With that said, these donuts are incredible. They shouldn’t even be called donuts, they’re more like a beignet, soft, light and addicting. You could eat a few in a matter of seconds. 

We visited the Dough tent at Smorgasburg (more on this joy trip in a future post) and bought the Hibiscus and Blood orange donuts. Sadly, I had to share with my boyfriend, who is a huge donut (and Seinfeld) fan. Regardless, the few bites I was able to steal were unforgettable. That is actually the only word I can use to describe the eating experience itself, the only word better suited would be its Spanish counterpart: inolvidable, because obviously everything sounds more intense and passionate in Spanish. I am definitely passionate about these donuts, which is why you should go try them. While you’re at it pick up a few for me and pass by my apt.

Grade for Donuts: A+++

Hibiscus Donut

Blood Orange Donut

Savory Treats in NYC

Many times I’ll go to a restaurant or order something for lunch expecting to be wow-ed, but sadly that rarely happens anymore unless Scott Conant is involved. However in the last few weeks I’ve had stumbled upon some delicious meals that have surpassed my expectations. Below are some savory treats in NYC.

Cafe Mogador

A friend recommended this place for a no-fuss, affordable and tasty Moroccan lunch. She couldn’t stop raving about the lamb tangine and since I’ve never been one to turn down a piece of meat, I dragged my boyfriend down there to try it out.

We ordered the hummus and labne (strained yogurt drizzled with olive oil) as appetizers. Both were light, fresh and well seasoned.

For my entree I ordered the lamb tangine, a delicious stew with traditional herbs and spices, lemons and olives served with a side of cous-cous. The lamb itself was perfectly cooked, moist and flavorful. 

My boyfriend ordered the Chicken Cous-Cous, a bouillon of meat and vegetables served with an assortment of vegetables, chickpeas, raisins and cous-cous.

Both dishes were delicious, however the Tangine was really the star.

Joe’s Shanghai

Ever have a moment where you start craving something out of nowhere? Well, I have these moments all the time. Last week I was craving dumplings. This is strange for a few reasons, the main one being that: I’m not actually a big fan of dumplings. Regardless I decided I’d go for it and after a bit of research, found Joe’s Shanghai. The reviews for the soup dumplings were out of control which meant I had to try them!

I ordered the Crab Meat with Pork Steamed Soup Buns, also known as xiao long bao (XLB). I received an order of  6, though I could have probably eaten 12. Each soft, chewy bun is stuffed with a tasty mixture of crab and pork meat. What makes them extra special is that they’re also filled with soup. How is that possible you say? A pork broth is made into gelatin, then cubed and combined with regular dumpling filling. As the dumpling is steamed, the gelatin cubes melt producing a soup inside. Genius, right?  They’re served with a dark soy vinegar that truly brings out the fishiness of the crab and the fatty delicious taste of the pork.

Below you can see a picture of how much broth is inside one dumpling. Delicious!

JJ’s Asian Fusion

This small sushi joint in Queens, may often go unnoticed as it’s not located on a main avenue in Astoria, but it has super fresh, tasty and delicious sushi. It also helps that the staff is very polite, the sake bombs are amazing and the Edamame pot stickers are OUT.OF.THIS.WORLD. The Daily News actually voted them as “best pot stickers of 2007” and they really are, the best.

We ordered a few sushi assortments but our favorites were:

The Astoria Roll, filled with crab meat and crunchy flakes and topped with fresh seared salmon and a delicious chef’s special spicy cream sauce on top.

The Rainbow Roll, filled with crab meat, masago and cucumber, and topped with Salmon, tuna, yellowtail, shrimp & avocado.

Spicy tuna, Spicy Salmon and Philadelphia rolls.

Stay tuned for next week’s post on some dessert goodness. 

Restaurant Week

It’s that time of the year again, where your pants don’t fit, you feel super gross and have an entire page of resolutions you’ve decided to stick to…for at least 2 weeks. And just in case your own temptations are not strong enough to steer you away from that wonderfully delicious plate of pasta smothered in your favorite sauce, Restaurant Week Month is here once again. So give up on your diet now and embrace the deliciousness that is headed your way.

Restaurant Week starts January 16th until February 10th. Of course it ends right before Valentine’s Day. This is not meant to save you any money! You can find out a list of the participating restaurants here. And in even more exciting news, American Express has apparently teamed up with Restaurant Week in effort to help you spend save even more money. If you register your Amex Card and use that same card to pay for at least 3 restaurant week outings (only restaurants participating in Restaurant Week will be participating in this deal) , American Express will give you a $20 Statement Credit. So that’s basically almost an entire meal on them! Pretty sweet deal. You can register your card here

And now for the really juicy part of this post. Below are my top victims spots to dine at during the Restaurant Outing Extravaganza and some of the meals I hope to devour elegantly taste…with complete control! Diet Shmieet, Delicious Food here I come!

  1. Butter 
  2. Mesa Grill
  3. Nobu
  4. Barbounia 
  5. Isabella’s 
  6. Le Cirque 
  7. Maialino 
  8. One By Land, Two if by Sea 
  9. Sofrito 
  10. Sushi Samba 

PS: Please note, Restaurant Week Menu is only available at all participating restaurants Mon-Fri. If you’d like a weekend meal, you’ll have to pay the full price. Buon Appetito!

At Vermilion Review

In the last few months I’ve been doing my duty as a fatty foodie and have continued to eat my way through the city. Unfortunately I’ve had a slew of bad to mediocre dinners and lunches that have left me pretty disappointed and broke.  Out of all these two stand out the most: one for being so terribly bad that I still refer to it as “taaart night”, and the other for being so good, that I still can recall every detail of every bite I took.

This post will be about the bad, and the ugly and the “this is not eatable”! A few weeks ago S and I went to At Vermilion. We’d both heard nice things about it and most of all, as avid Chopped watchers, we recognized the chef Maneet Chauhan as one of the guest judges on the show. She’s described as brilliant, innovative, sophisticated etc, etc. The cuisine at At Vermilion (sounds kind of weird) is a fusion of Indian and Spanish dishes. While neither S nor I are big fans of Indian cuisine, we love to try new things and thought this was a risk worth taking. It was not!

I ordered the much raved about Pani Puri margarita and it came with a little cookie on top. How cute I thought, a drink and a cookie – Win! Not! The cookie was tasteless and the drink tasted like cold soup with a dollop of curry and 2 pounds of nutmeg. I can honestly say, I’ve sipped on some pretty weird drinks and have always found something to love about them, but this one was disgusting. I took one sip and I was done. It also cost $15, which haunted me for the rest of the night.

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For appetizers we ordered the blue Corn Crusted Scallops served with goat cheese puree and the Artichoke Pakoras- Indian fritters served with an eggplant chili coconut sauce. The best out of these, and really the best dish of the entire night were the scallops which were perfectly cooked. The artichoke pakoras were burnt and very dry. The eggplant chili sauce they came with was so bad it overpowered the entire dish.

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For our entrees S and I shared the Tandori Skirt Steak: a seared churrasco in a classic Indian marinade served with plantain chips and what was supposed to be garlic spinach; and the Plantain Wrapped Sea Bass. The steak was once more cooked perfectly, but everything else on the plate was inedible, especially the sauce that came with it, which can best be described as toothpaste mixed with soap. Honestly the most disgusting thing I have ever tried to eat! The fish was moist but again overpowered by the amount of curry and Indian spices. I truly believe spices are meant to enhance the taste of a dish, but the amount used to make the fish, made it unrecognizable. I might as well have been eating pancakes with curry on them. We skipped dessert when we saw the couple next to us almost have a vomfest when they tried their pudding mixture (not sure what they ordered) As S said, everything here was tart- one of Maneet’s favorite words.

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To top it off, the restaurant décor leaves much to be desired. While it is obvious that they strive for a modern, sophisticated, minimalistic look, what they’ve actually achieved is a cold, unwelcoming hotel lobby feel. Do yourself a favor and don’t go here. Every time I watch Maneet on Chopped I now scream at the TV: You can’t cook so you shouldn’t be judging!

Scarpetta

Seems like I’ll be continuing the food trend for this week’s blogs with a quick review on ScarpettaScott Conant‘s restaurant located in the Meatpacking district in NYC. I could go on and on about the qualities of the restaurant, its meaningful name, etc, etc but the truth is you can find any of that information when you google the place. Here’s what made me choose it: my love for Italian food and Scott’s attitude and judgemental ways. I watch him religiously on Chopped and I figure “a man who can judge someone else’s dishes this harshly, can only do so because he can make that same dish 100 times better.” So I put my theory to the test and made reservations (a month in advance) for my anniversary dinner. I can’t decide whether I should review each dish separately or simply say “WOW.” It’s been a long time since I have eaten a meal that tasted this good and I eat delicious things every day. I don’t know exactly what goes on in that kitchen, but I can imagine little angels come down and whip sweet polenta with their little angel hands and then delicately blow truffle oil on flavorful cheeses from Italy.

Everything we ate was incredible, impeccable and worth every penny (this place is not cheap) but what stole the show for me, was the Creamy Polenta with fricassee of truffled mushrooms. I read some reviews on Yelp that said this dish was “overrated” and to those people I would like to say ” You need to check your taste buds because there is something wrong with them.” This dish was so delicious, flavorful, creamy and rich, it would inspire Polenta haters to beg their girlfriend to recreate it at home and after stalking the internet like a baby lion looking for her first prey, I found it here. Feel free to try this out at home yourself but first and foremost go to Scarpetta and have the real thing. You won’t regret it!

PS: As was to be expected, based on the chef’s own personality, the staff at Scarpetta is a bit on the pretentious side as well. But remember ” You’re not there to eat them, you’re there to eat the food and in the end you hold the power of gratuity…” 

PPS: I did not steal the little pan the mushrooms were served in, I just happened to have a very similar one at home.

A delicious find at Queens Comfort

I’ve lived in Astoria ever since I swam across the ocean to get to this country. I had a few stints on the upper west side and midtown area thanks to my parents, but once I moved out… I had to move back to the tiny Astoria apartments and walk the same streets I walked when I was 12. Clearly not the most desirable situation, but it works. After all, Astoria has always had its advantages, though being cool and fun weren’t really some of them.  I of course, associate cool and fun with food and drinking. And it seems that Astoria is finally moving in that direction.

Little shops, bakeries and cafes are popping up everywhere, almost making up for the semi ridiculous amount of “greek” cafes on 30th Avenue and Broadway.  One of the new gems in the neighborhood is Queens Comfort: a cozy, diner-like spot that specializes in southern comfort aka delicious food. The atmosphere here is pretty relaxed, with a sweet hostess by the door and a waiting staff that you’ll probably confuse for actual patrons. This can of course be a drawback, because you might end up asking someone if they can get you a cup of coffee, when in fact they’re waiting for their own bacon donut to arrive. Yes I said Bacon Donut. They make those here and they’re pretty spectacular…and I don’t even like donuts.  The donut, which is baked fresh each morning, is generously topped with fresh cooked bacon, creating that impossible to beat salty-sweet combination. The smell of these tiny delights will assault you as soon as you enter the restaurant, but it wasn’t the smell that convinced me to try them. Instead it was the woman sitting next to me, ( almost on my lap actually considering the space is made up of connected tables) with her sighs and Sally-like moans. Not only did she make her own husband uncomfortable, she made me want to ask ” umm what are you eating?”. And that’s the donut story for you.

Donuts aside, I ordered the Fried Green Tomato Sandwich – a choice inspired by my love for the movie with the same name. The sandwich came with a huge slice of green tomato fried to perfection, goat cheese remoulade and hot pepper jelly on country white bread. I have absolutely no words to describe what this tasted like except maybe : deliriously drool-worthy fantasmical. I mean… it was really good. If you’re going to go here and only try one thing, let it be this. My boyfriend ordered the Kentucky Hot Brown with smoked turkey, roasted tomatoes, bacon and mornay sauce served on country white bread. The sauce on this was so good, I licked his plate. I mean if the woman next to me was going to have a moan-fest I might as well have my fun too.

The only thing that was not delicious, or good for that matter, was the coffee, but hopefully they’ll change that. Also keep in mind that everything in this place is made in house and cooked on the spot. Their menu changes daily so you’re never sure what they’ll be serving the day you decide to walk in there. Maybe you’ll get the baked mac n’ cheese, Nutella stuffed french toast, disco tots or one of their home made biscuits.

All in all this little place had made me like Astoria a little more and makes up for the fact that my sink still doesn’t work (thanks mainly to my hardworking landlord). Even the New York Times is raving about it. Check it out yourself, it’s located on 40-09 30th Ave, right off of Steinway.

PS: They only accept cash but everything is so cheap you won’t have to walk around carrying $100 dollar bills. Another added bonus you can BYOB and enjoy it with your meal.